Labor law highlights, 1915–2015

Source: Graham Boone, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Monthly Labor Review, October 2015

From the introduction:
“Democracy cannot work unless it is honored in the factory as well as the polling booth; men cannot truly be free in body and spirit unless their freedom extends into places where they earn their daily bread.” This declaration, uttered by Senator Robert Wagner as he introduced the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935, offers a fair summation of the reasoning underlying many of the labor laws enacted during the past century. Equality and the rule of law are considered among the most important principles of democracy—principles that Wagner articulated. This article highlights some of the more important labor laws that have been passed in the hundred years that the Monthly Labor Review has been in publication. All the legislation discussed in this article has, in some way, advanced principles of democracy within the U.S. workforce….

…..Perhaps the benefit of union membership that has the greatest impact on workers is higher compensation—those represented by unions routinely earn more than nonunion members. As figure 6 shows, higher earnings among union members is a pattern that holds among a broad range of demographic groups.
Despite the fact that union membership gives workers more influence in the workplace and yields higher earnings, union membership is on the decline. Union membership rose steadily after the passage of the NLRA but has been declining steadily since the 1960s. In 2014, 11.1 percent of all workers were union members. Many factors likely contribute to the decline. Some people attribute it to changes in the composition of the labor force. Others note a concerted effort by employers to combat unionization, including an uptick in employers’ threats that a workplace will close or move if a union is formed. Regardless of the decline in membership, the fact that most workers have the opportunity to unionize and can choose whether or not to do so by popular vote has expanded democracy in the workplace…..

 Median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers, by union affiliation and selected characteristics, 2014 annual averages
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